By Jonathan Allen and Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – The Los Angeles Board of Education was to vote on Thursday on a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all children over 12 in the nation’s second-largest school district.
The meeting http://laschoolboard.org/9-9-21SpclBD was set for 2 p.m. PDT (5 p.m. ET) with a session for the public to comment to the board, which has previously been sued over its precautions for the novel coronavirus. About 2,000 people a day test positive for the coronavirus in Los Angeles County.
Most board members have already indicated they support the measure, the Los Angeles Times reported, meaning Los Angeles is poised to be the first large school district in the country to mandate vaccines for students 12 and over.
With a COVID surge fueled by the Delta variant, school districts are facing challenges, including sickened teachers, as they create policies around the politically charged topics of vaccines and masking.
More than 600,000 students go to schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which already has masking, coronavirus-testing and ventilation requirements in its roughly 1,200 schools. The board previously mandated all employees be vaccinated.
The board’s proposal is that all students over 12 who have chosen to return in-person to schools must have received their first vaccine dose by Nov. 12 unless they have a valid medical or religious exemption. The mandate does not apply to a small minority of students who have opted to remain home for virtual learning.
At least one, albeit much smaller, school district has already put a vaccine mandate in place for students: neighboring Culver City Unified School District announced the requirement last month.
The Food and Drug Administration said in May that children over 12 can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but authorization for a vaccine for children younger than 12 has not been granted.
In New York City, the nation’s largest school district, staff at public schools are already required to be vaccinated, but not children, who head back to school on Monday.
“We just don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Thursday, saying his priority was getting children back in school. “If there’s a family that’s not yet ready, I don’t want that family kept out of school.”
In Florida, a judge ruled this week that the state cannot enforce a ban on public schools’ mask mandates while the issue makes it way through the courts.
Of the Florida districts that report COVID-19 cases in the school system, infections this academic year appear higher than they were last year, said Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar. “And in most cases they’re higher this year in the first 3 or 4 weeks than they were all of last year,” he added.
“One of the things we want to see is a stronger push on getting people vaccinated,” Spar said.
Besides pushing to get staff and children vaccinated, schools must also focus on mitigation measures such as strict social distancing, small class sizes and universal masking where possible, health experts said.
“Unless we can open up schools safely with full mitigation measures, we’re really putting everyone at risk,” Sara Bode, a pediatrician and committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health, said in an interview.